Get Connected

To what extent is linked technology in independent schools changing learning? Simon Fry makes the connections

Surrey University’s plans to develop ‘next generation’ paper, allowing users to interact with printed materials, heralds a brave new world of connected educational estate. While such technology has yet to be fully adopted in independent schools, for many, the process is underway.   

 “The Internet of Things (IoT) is the new buzzword in the technology sector,” according to Dr Neelam Parmar, Director of E-learning at Kent’s Ashford School

“Coined by Kevin Ashton in 1999 while working at P&G, the IoT is basically a network of physical objects connected to the internet, providing ‘smarter’ user experiences,” explained Neelam. “Some of these objects include smartphones, watches and even electronic devices like ‘smart’ fridges, transmitting data over the internet, but what does this mean for the IoT in education? At Ashford, the IoT is manifested through the use of cloud technology, using a hybrid model of both Microsoft O365 and the 1:1 iPad strategy, creating what the IoT would call a ‘smart school’.” 

The IoT breaks down time barriers for pupils and teachers. “From a student’s perspective, pupils have access to the school’s resources, materials and information anytime, anywhere and in any place,” continued Neelam. “Students can continue their studies outside the traditional school hours and beyond the classroom walls, whereby they have the ability to pursue their own interests. From a teacher’s perspective, school-related teaching processes have become much easier. Real-time feedback and marking through the Showbie app and online digital content via Office Sharepoint has made sharing and collaboration much easier, freeing teachers to invest in efficient virtual classroom processes rather than spending time shuffling paper. The question ahead of us is whether we are looking to create ‘smart’ students and ‘smart’ teachers and what would this mean in digitising the student learning experience and instructors’ teaching practices?” 

From a student’s perspective, pupils have access to the school’s resources, materials and information anytime, anywhere and in any place

Ian Phillips, who is Assistant Head and Director of Computing and ICT at The Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School as well as Chair of the ISC’s Digital Strategy Group, added, “Bursars like spending money on tech projects, but you need to ensure it is the best solution. In many school assemblies you can press one button and it turns the projector on and brings the blinds down and we’re just putting in an automatic number plate recognition system in our car park. We have an avid mountaineering club, and we’ve been looking to communicate the moment the climbers get to the top of a mountain, perhaps in North Wales or Scotland, live, back to the school. Within five years we will have done that, but to get to these transformative moments you’ve got to make mistakes, ensuring the technology will be robust and reliable in those really exciting moments. We have already done some mystery Skypes where our children were linked to those at NYC’s Collegiate School. Neither class knew where the other was and they had to ask questions of each other to work out where in the world they were.”

However, Ian highlighted that privacy concerns must be considered. “Our pupils may worry when we put school software on their device we will know everything they do, if they go onto sites they perhaps shouldn’t. They’re terrified it’s going to be like Big Brother and an alarm will go off! We need to build trust and confidence,” said Ian. 

Elsewhere, Kelvinside Academy is also pushing technological boundaries with their latest partnership. Ian Munro, Rector at Kelvinside Academy, said, “Innovation is at the heart of everything we do, our exclusive partnership with NuVu, the world’s leading innovation school being proof. NuVu, the brainchild of three Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduates, is reimagining education by creating the school of the future. Rather than classrooms and subjects, pupils work on collaborative projects, immersing themselves in the creative process under the guidance of designers and experts. They solve real-life problems through a critical and rigorous innovation process. This summer, our pupils experienced NuVu’s education model for themselves, taking on projects in biofashion and swarm robotics. These studios took place in our ‘Thinking Space’, our library inspired by Silicon Valley. It includes an experimental teaching room known as the ‘Think-Tank’, with tables and walls on which pupils can write.”  

 “3D printing has, in many respects, revolutionised the teaching of design technology,” said Tim Weston, Head of Design Technology at Oakham School. “Students are now quickly able to see their designs come to life, pro-typing design ideas and creating finished products. We have a number of 3D printers at Oakham, including a 3D Rapid Prototype Printer, and one of the first projects our students undertake is the creation of a USB stick made using a 3D printer. It’s important for pupils, from as early an age as possible, to see their ideas transformed into something tangible, something they can use, appreciate, and then, hopefully, inspire them to consider how to further improve upon its design. Pupils studying 3D printing at A-level or IB can develop complex designs, such as Jacob Hardy-King, whose 3D-designed portable pet cleaner won him a place in the recent grand final of the Triumph Design Awards.” 

To an extent, the Internet of Things is already present in independent schools. The challenge for heads and bursars is to spend wisely, creating a bold, new, technological world in the classroom equipping their pupils to go out confidently into the real world. Watch this space… 

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